Kerala Police crack down on partner swapping

Indian society is yet to accept extramarital relationships

Kerala Police has started cracking down on the phenomenon of ‘couple swapping’ or ‘partner swapping’ — which has gained the status of an alternate lifestyle in the West — after a complaint from a married woman.

Kottayam Police said they have have arrested six people from the districts of Kottayam and nearby areas, without giving details.

The police has imposed charges of rape and solicitation on the arrested people.

The rise of social media has enabled people with share interests, such as extramarital relationships, to reach out to each other. In this case too, said the police, people are reaching out to each other using social media.

NOT A CRIME

According to the Indian constitution, swapping partners does not amount to a crime — either under the new rules set out by the Supreme Court in 2018 — or even in the British era rules that existed till then.

Before 2018, women were considered more or less the chattel property of the husband, and it was not a crime for another man to have sex with a married woman as long as her husband agreed to it — like in case of partner swapping.

The legal treatment of such extramarital relationships was further liberalized in 2018 when a five-judge bench of the Supreme Court ruled that the existing legal treatment — dating from colonial times — was against women’s rights to equality.

Under the rules laid down by the Supreme Court in 2018, both married women and married men have the same right to have sex with others who may be married or unmarried, and no charges can be brought against any of the party involved as long as the relationships are consensual.

The rules put India on the same page on consensual sexual relationships as other developed countries.

‘MORAL’ OPPOSITION

However, while the concept of sex outside marriage has gained acceptance among legal circles, it is still opposed by a section of the population, including in law-enforcement machinery such as the police.

As such, people who explore such relationships are usually prosecuted by the police under various other sections, including solicitation, human trafficking, rape, sex against the order of nature and so on.

For example, Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code lays down life imprisonment for anyone couple who engages in “carnal intercourse against the order of nature”. Under the selectively enforced law, any couple engaging in oral sex and anal sex, for example, can be punished with imprisonment for life in India.

In this case too, Kerala Police are bringing out such angles to prosecute those engaged in partner swapping.

Going by off-the-record briefings given to the media, the police have included the angle of unnatural sex in the FIR registered by the woman.

According to the FIR, woman from Changanassery said her husband was trying to get her into the lifestyle and she feared that she may have to engage in ‘unnatural sexual acts’ if she agreed.

SEX AND RELIGION

Meanwhile, a large segment of the population, particularly those who subscribe to the Judaeo-Christian religious tradition, consider sex outside the marriage a sin.

Traditional Indian culture was not against the concept of polyamory — a woman or man having physical relationships with multiple people at the same time.

However, with the arrival of the British as the colonial masters, the country’s moral standards were brought in line with Judaeo-Christian standards, and multiple partners were made illegal and immoral. Today, even votaries of ‘Hindu culture’ champion the Judaeo-Christian ideal of one-man-and-one-woman for life.

Nevertheless, in formerly Judaeo-Christian countries such as the US, the UK and France, the concept of marriage — as an exclusive arrangement between a man and a woman for life — has rapidly undergone a change in favor of accommodating more permutations and combinations.

Today, more people in such countries are accepting of relationships and marriages between a man and a man, a woman and a woman, two men and one women, and between several men and several women at the same time (communal marriage).

However, such lifestyles are yet to gain general acceptance in a relatively conservative society like that of India, leading to persecution of people straying beyond the one-partner-for-life Judaeo-Christian model.